Israel has announced the reopening of Bir Zeit University, a center of fierce Palestinian nationalist activity, which it closed down for security reasons more than four years ago, shortly after the intifada began.
Bir Zeit, 14 miles north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, will be the last to reopen of the six Palestinian universities in the administered territories that were closed down after the intifada started.
Classes there will be resumed on a trial basis in the science and engineering departments on April 29.
If all goes well, the other faculties will be reopened at regular intervals, Defense Minister Moshe Arens announced Monday.
Arens said the purpose was to “return to normal life in the territories.”
He said the authorities had assurances from the university administration that the students would confine themselves to their studies and not engage in violence. The university authorities will be held strictly responsible, the defense minister stressed.
The Israeli authorities closed Bir Zeit on Jan. 8, 1988, barely a month after the intifada started. It had become one of the main centers of agitation, rioting and rock-throwing.
Even before the intifada, the university, which is near Ramallah, was closed frequently for long intervals because of the intense nationalism of its students and many faculty members, which often manifested itself in overt acts.
But Israel has come under strong world pressure to ease its restrictions on the 1.75 million Palestinians under its rule.
PROTESTS FROM THE FAR RIGHT
Bir Zeit is to reopen two days after bilateral peace talks are scheduled to resume in Washington between Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and between Israel and Syrian and Lebanese delegations.
Israel is expected to press hard for its autonomy plan for the Palestinians, and the reopening of Bir Zeit could be cited as one measure preparing the way for Palestinians to take control of some of their affairs.
Bir Zeit, with an enrollment of about 2,500, is the most prestigious of the Palestinian institutions of higher learning because of its high academic standards.
The others are Bethlehem University, Hebron University, A-Najah in Nablus, Al-Quds in East Jerusalem and the Islamic University in Gaza. More than 14,000 students are enrolled in the six universities.
Although the campuses were closed for years, studies were continued at alternative premises. The Israeli authorities were aware of those activities but shut their eyes to them as long as they did not disrupt the public peace.
Arens’ announcement of Bir Zeit’s reopening drew angry protests from the far-right wing in the Knesset.
Rehavam Ze’evi of the Moledet party and Elyakim Haetzni of Tehiya criticized the move. Moledet and Tehiya quit the Likud-led coalition government in January to protest its participation in direct peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.